Berkeley City Council supports state bill to print warning labels on sugary beverages

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Berkeley City Council has expressed support for a new state bill that would prohibit the sale or distribution of a sugar-sweetened beverage in the state without a health warning.

Senate Bill 300, or the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Health Warning Act, states that sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest source of added sugars in the American diet and lead to diseases like obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Introducing health warnings would “increase knowledge and reduce consumption of harmful products,” according to the bill text.

According to Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, the principal coauthor of SB 300, printing health warnings would give people the information needed to make informed choices about their drinks and its associated health risks. Wiener previously supported the 2016 soda tax in San Francisco and authored a law requiring warning labels on advertisements.

“Like with tobacco products, warning labels are one public policy tool that can be used to address the public health risks like increased rates of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases  caused by the consumption of these drinks,” Wiener said in an emailed statement. “Numerous studies have shown the impact that warning labels have had on cigarettes and other tobacco products.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguin expressed Berkeley City Council’s support for the bill in a tweet Tuesday. Stefan Elgstrand, Arreguin’s chief of staff, said the bill has received unanimous approval from City Council. Councilmembers are hopeful that state legislature will pass the bill, according to Elgstrand.

Elgstrand emphasized Berkeley’s leadership role in issues surrounding public health.

“We were the first to pass the soda tax and we have also done a lot of work around the school district to promote healthy choices,” Elgstrand said. “This will be another step to make sure children grow up making better health choices.”

But Joan Bloom, a professor in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said in an email that she is unclear about the intent of the proposal after many cities already have a tax on sugary beverages in place.

“Possibly, there (are) too many communities or persons in the state that would not go for a tax and this is the next best thing,” Bloom said in an email.

Councilmember Linda Maio said the measure is necessary to reduce the overconsumption of sugary beverages and to control the “spiking” of associated health risks.

According to Maio, Berkeley experienced a favorable trend after the passage of the soda tax. After the tax was implemented, soda consumption in the city decreased by 20 percent and the consumption of drinking water increased by 60 percent, Maio said.

Maio added that big soda companies came out against the soda tax before but lost by a “tremendous” amount, despite hiring expert consultants.

“The soda companies are interested in their income levels,” Maio said. “We are not getting paid. We are actually concerned about the health of our children.”

Contact Azwar Shakeel at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @azwarshakeel12.